No Need to Cry a River

Entering my final week of the Laidlaw project it’s hard to believe how fast the time has gone. Just ten weeks ago I was facing the daunting task of climbing the Mourne Mountains and collecting jars upon jars of samples from the River Shimna by myself. It was a lot more exercise than I anticipated and a lot more falling into the river than I wanted (big shout out to various family members who accompanied me to make sure I didn’t drown) but mostly this project has been a lot of fun and because of that I am so grateful to the Laidlaw committee and Lord Laidlaw for giving me the opportunity to carry it out.

My project is centred on investigating the pollutive effects a dam can have upon a river. Fofanny Dam and Reservoir was built along the River Shimna below the Trassey walk and has been the cause of three serious hot water spills in the past decade. The Northern Irish Environmental Agency (NIEA) provided figures from pollution tests further downstream where there was evidence that the river has recovered from any effects of the dam, however minimal testing had been carried out around the actual reservoir. My aim was to establish the water quality above and below the dam and investigate if there was any difference that could potentially be caused by pollutive effects.

After collecting samples of macro-invertebrates from sites above, alongside and below the dam they were transported back to St Andrews. A couple weeks spent squinting down a microscope and some much appreciated guidance from my supervisor and I managed to classify everything down to family level on the taxonomy index. This allowed me to use biological indicators and scores to compare water quality between sites and I have produced some very interesting results. Both above and below the dam had relatively poor water quality, meanwhile two of the sites right above/alongside the dam had moderate to good water quality- a completely different set of results than I had predicted!

The positive outcome from these results is that the spills from the dam and reduced flow rate are not having a significant pollutive effect on the river. Therefore I do not need to recommend any mitigation procedures to the NIEA to improve the river quality. It does however mean that there may be other aspects of the surrounding environment which could be preventing the river reaching its full ecological potential which should be investigated. For the remainder of my project time I now have to write the report and poster to explain the other causes of pollution around the river. So keep a look out for me at the poster presentation in October if you’re interested in what else could be happening to our rivers!


^ A picture of me at the final sampling site feeling very proud!

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